ARTIST BIOGRAPHY: A Personal Biography Written by the Artist’s Son
Dad came from good stock as it were. His father, Horace, had lost an arm in the Civil War. Later he moved to Washington, DC, where he worked for the Government at the Bureau of Pensions. He turned poet in his spare time, published many poems, as well as a book espousing pacifism.
Dad's mother was the daughter of a family of early missionaries to the Sioux Indians. She spent much of her life working tirelessly for their cause. At times she would send Dad's sister, Marjorie, off to stay with relatives while she, my Dad, and his brother were bundled off with her to an Indian reservation where she taught sewing.
Dad moved with the family to Washington when he was 14 and there began his art studies at the Arts Students' League under E.C. Messer. He was also to become an art critic for The Evening Star at the age of 18.
Feeling the need for a broader art education Dad commenced further art studies in Paris in 1903. He mostly financed this trip, which was to last several years, with money he had already earned selling his works. He enrolled in the famous Julian Academy. Other students there were his friends Harry Hoffman and Arthur Spear, and also Leo Stein, Gertrude Stein's brother.
He returned to the United States in 1905, but two years later he returned to Europe where he painted in Germany, Spain, Sicily, Italy, the Dalmatian Coast, and Morocco.
In 1909 he began his association with the art colony at Old Lyme Connecticut. He, along with other American impressionists such as Childe Hassam, spent their summers at the stately mansion of Miss Florence Griswold. Miss Florence cared for her "sons" whom she fed, housed, and allowed to work in private studios on the spacious grounds. In return Dad did odd jobs around the house. It seems that Miss Florence loved all creatures, and it was not long before the house was overrun with stray cats that she had taken in. Her boarders, finally having had enough, approached Miss Florence with a solution to the situation. Dad was delegated to dispose of the most recent litter of kittens. As he began climbing the stairs to the upstairs bathroom, sock and kittens in hand, Miss Florence's plaintive voice cried out: "Be sure to warm the water."
World War I interrupted his idyllic life at the Old Lyme artist colony. Dad joined the Navy and went to Washington to create camouflage designs for ships. Simply put, his job was to make battleships less visible and hospital ships more visible. Many of his designs were actually painted onto ships, and I like to think that countless lives were undoubtedly saved through his efforts.
After the war Dad returned to Old Lyme where he continued to paint landscapes. In 1923 he married Katharine Jordan Thomas and now felt that a more settled career was needed to provide for a future family. The following year he took a teaching post at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. World War II caused him to take a leave of absence to again go to Washington and work for the Camouflage Division of the Navy Department. In 1945 he retired and moved permanently to his New Hampshire home where he continued to paint until his death in 1963.
In helping to gather materials for this exhibit, half-forgotten memories and impressions of family life have flooded back into my conscious memory. Dad was 5l when I was born, yet he never considered himself as "old." He was active, alert, vital right up to his death at 86 years old.
Dad was not formally educated, that is he only finished high school but never went to college. Yet I always considered my father highly educated and intellectual. His lack of a college education caused Carnegie Tech some concerns when it came to ceremonial occasions. How could he participate in academic processions without a hood? Dad fixed this problem by designing the colors for a hood of his own. Dad liked to listen to classical music while he painted, and though he didn't have any musical training he possessed all the right natural instincts. I remember him characterizing Beethoven as like a guest at the front door who has trouble saying good-bye (referring to Beethoven's often long and redundant conclusions to his compositions).
Dad was a great raconteur and storyteller. I still remember from childhood the fascinating bedtime stories he would make up to quiet down his three rather rambunctious young sons. But he also loved to tell stories about his past experiences with a flair that would spellbind his audience. One time, however, Dad let me down. I had come home on a break from college having just read Gertrude Stein's Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Knowing that he had been friends with Gertrude's brother Leo, I inquired if Dad ever met Gertrude. "O sure," he replied, "she was Leo's big fat ugly sister who always wanted to tag along with the boys." That was all I ever learned from him about Gertrude Stein.
Dad has a great sense of humor. He appreciated life with all its inconsistencies and ironies. The lawn mower incident is still recounted in the family circle. Sartorial splendor was not Dad's main concern. When working in his studio or around the house he felt perfect at ease in his paint covered and well worn cloths. Once Mother, who had invited the ladies in her bridge club to the house, exclaimed, "Everett, I certainly hope that you're not going to let yourself be seen in those ratty old clothes!" While the ladies were on the back porch engrossed in their game, Dad came around the corner mowing the lawn and dressed in his tux complete with cummerbund. Then there was Cosmos Club incident in Washington, DC. Dad was a member of this elite and venerable men's club. On the wall behind the billiard room bar there had been painted a rather voluptuous reclining female nude. Dad, along with fellow member and co-conspirator, Charles Bittinger, decided that the mural needed some "restoration work." They added some greenery and the faces of some monkeys lasciviously peering out at the reclining figure from behind the foliage. Unfortunately, the faces of these long-tailed primates too closely resembled a number of the club's members. Objections by some were raised at the 1945 Cosmos Club annual meeting, forcing the mural on the west wall to be removed.
Dad possessed a strong sense of individual rights. No effort was too great as he carried out his lifelong battle against bungling bureaucracy, institutional ineptitude, and malfeasant merchants. Mother often told the story of returning from their honeymoon and being left at the threshold while Dad got into a long altercation with the taxi driver over the correct fare. Once Dad bit into a 5-cent candy bar only to find that it contained peanuts rather than the almonds described on the package. This prompted a long letter of complaint from him to the company, which elicited a reply that perhaps he couldn't tell the difference between almonds and peanuts. Many letters and 3-cent stamps later, the company finally gave up and sent Dad a refund check for 5 cents.
Dad was an eminently practical man. No one was more unlike the stereotype image of the artist as a scatterbrained recluse. His everyday life was planned and ordered. Whatever the problem, Dad usually had a solution for it. Our garage was rather short and Mother rarely managed to park the car without bumping the front wall until Dad rigged up a tennis ball on a string suspended from the ceiling. When the ball touched the front windshield, this meant go no farther.
Dad was extremely meticulous. Widely known (and feared) in exhibition circles for the precise instructions, he would attach to the shipping crates for his paintings long notes detailing how to remove the lid, which screws to loosen first, what manner to handle the frames, and how to repack the crates.
Dad was beloved by his students. They affectionately called him "Doc. Warner." Even the least talented never felt inadequate in his classroom. He would instruct by using imaginative illustrations. He went to great lengths whenever he lectured to make his teaching original and entertaining. Once he drew a fully dressed female figure on a glass slide that he projected on a screenfor the students. Then to illustrate how certain colors could change other colors, he would insert colored plates in front of the slide. The figure on the screen would appear each time to shed more of her clothing, until at the end she stood in her all-together. Dad once illustrated this part of the lecture at home to his family. I really don't remember what technical aspect of color he was attempting to demonstrate. I do remember, however, that Mother was none too pleased at having her young boys as his audience.
Dad loved to share what he had learned. I remember him as frequently in his room typing furiously away at some project. The family all knew that this was a "not to be disturbed time" for him. He managed to publish a manual for etchers, an article on how to improve highway visibility, and several articles on how museums and art galleries obliterate parts of paintings by spotlights, glass in the frames, or by hanging the paintings too high (Dad expoused automated natural lighting as the best solution). Dad also possessed a literary bent, and the family archives contain a number of short stories and vignettes carefully preserved along with their rejection slips from various publishers.
Dad was recognized early on as a significant artist. The positive reviews of his works and the large numbers of then which he sold attest to this fact. But tastes changed and by the late 1940s he felt out of touch with the mainstream of the art world, a world ended up turning away from the style of realism.